Title : “Unstuckable – Episode 20 : Create Your Own Job Like Jon Spitz”
URL : http://unstuckable.co/episode-020-create-your-own-job-like-jon-spitz/
Organization : Unstuckable Podcast
Host 1 : Stephen Warley
Contact : LinkedIn profile
Host 2 : Chris Wilson
Contact : LinkedIn Profile
Guest : Jon Spitz
Contact : LinkedIn Profile
Announcer : It’s time to get unstuck.[music] Welcome to Unstuckable episode 20. Need a mentor? Email someone you admire today and ask them to meet. I’m Chris Wilson and now here’s Stephen Warley with today’s unstuckable story. [music]
Stephen Warley : Thanks Chris. Why wait for someone to hire you? Why is it that the only way most of us think we can ever get a job is by applying for one. In today’s very competitive economy the very best way to stand out from the crowd and eliminate the competition is to create a job that only you are uniquely qualified to do. Meet Jon Spitz. He just got a job as the operations manager of 43north.org. It’s the world’s largest business plan competition, with $5 million to give away. He recently brought “Startup Weekend” to his home town of Buffalo. He produced three different events in just one year attracting 350 entrepreneurs, and wasn’t paid a dime for his work. Jon doesn’t wait for job openings – he creates them. On three different occasions Jon basically created his own job. Once he pitched a local juice vendor on how he could manage their social media for them. He got noticed on LinkedIn for his social media abilities and then landed his next job as a director for online recruitment for a local college. Finally, he landed his current job by connections he made by bringing “Startup Weekend” to Buffalo and showcasing his ability for bringing entrepreneurs together. As you listen to Jon, think of a couple of companies you’ve always wanted to work with and spend 15 minutes thinking about what you could do for them that noone else with your qualifications can. Hey John, thank you so much for joining us. Our good friend Griffin Jones – our mutual connection – I’m so glad he got us together.
Jon Spitz : Hey, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.
Stephen : We’ll be talking to Griffin in a future podcast, because he’s galavanting out in Boliva right now as the both of us are enduring a hard winter. So Jon, tell me how you think you’ve been unstuckable in your career.
Jon : Well I guess when I graduated college I was working for a supermarket – granted it was the biggest and best, and still is, the best supermarket in the world – Wegman’s –
Stephen : They’ve finally come to Massachusetts.
Jon : Yeah, that’s a big deal. You should go there. It’s good stuff. Great prepared foods. Can’t say enough good things about the place. I worked through high school and then I got a full-time job, had a great management role people would have killed to have. I did it for about two-and-a-half years, but probably after a year-and-a-half I kind of realized that this is not what I wanted to do. So I did feel stuck. I was in retail and I wanted to get out of retail as bad as I could, but I couldn’t dream of the day that I could put on a shirt and a tie. That was my goal.
Stephen : Really? See, I was dreaming of the day when I didn’t have to put that on anymore.
Jon : Yeah, I’m at that stage now. But at this stage I was like, “God, I don’t want to have to put on a uniform. I want to put on a shirt and tie and go sit in an office.” So what I actually did was – it was long talks with my folks at home, my support network – and I basically was like, “I can’t do this job.” I had to quit, and that’s exactly what I did. I quit and I didn’t have anything lined up.
Stephen : Really, it was that bad?
Jon : It was that bad for me, yeah.
Stephen : What was it like towards the end? How did you feel going into work?
Jon : I dreaded it. I would have to get there by 6:00 am – it was a thirty minute drive. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of getting my coffee in the morning, from Tim Horton’s – which was really good coffee, but it wasn’t that good.
Stephen : What was it about the job that you were like, “This is so not for me?”
Jon : Well, I was 22 or 23 at the time, and I’m working retail. So the busiest days at a grocery store – if you were to guess – would probably be what? What days do you think people usually shop at a grocery store?
Stephen : Oh, weekends. Isn’t Wednesday the best day to go shopping?
Jon : Yes it is.
Stephern : That’s when I go.
Jon : Yes, weekends. So that means that as a manager you’re there on the weekends. So when all of my friends are out having fun on the weekends I’m getting up at 6:00 am to go into a cooler and then empty the cooler and bring it out to the sales floor for people. So just being in the retail environment, working weekends and holidays, I knew that was something I wasn’t going to be doing for very long. I guess at the end there I actually tried to get to Boston when they opened up those stores. I was like, “Listen, I’ll go to Boston. I’ll help them open the stores and show them the Wegman’s way.” and when I got rejected for that, and upon getting rejected for a couple of other things I kind of thought that the company wasn’t on the same career trajectory so I had to make my own career trajectory.
Stephen : That’s interesting. Also, that seems like a big part of it. Maybe if they did give you some advancement opportunities you might have stuck around a little longer.
Jon : Yeah, but would I have been happy? Maybe temporarily.
Stephen : Right, it’s true. We always think that small change sometimes can be a good thing, but if it is more of the same thing you’re stuck a little longer in a place you don’t want to be.
Jon : Exactly.
Stephen : So you quit. I know you were probably raised this way. I was raised this way. It’s like, “Oh my god! Don’t quit your job until you have another job.” I have to say that I feel my mindset is changing. I mean, if you’re not happy and as long as somehow you can financially take care of yourself and you’ve found an alternative way to do that, I think it’s not a bad thing if it puts more time into focusing on what you really want to do.
Jon : Right, and to me – at least from my experience, as I’ve done it recently again – looking for a job really, for me, is a full-time job. So what I did when I walked in and quit – I didn’t do it like a maniac or anything like that, I did it politically right – was I created my own job. Then I was a juice vendor who worked at Wegman’s that was locally in Geneva, New York. I basically reached out to them and was like, “Hey, I can help you guys. I love social media. Let me build something for you and be the social media guy.” Basically what they said was “Come back to me. Write a business plan on what you’re going to do for us and break it down…” So, long story short, I got a job with them and started working with them. So I kind of created what I wanted to do which at that time was social media. Social media was just getting into businesses, and I was like, “Okay, this is my ticket out of the grocery store.”
Stephen : So was it a ticket out of like, “Cause I didn’t want to do that.” Or were you generally really interested in it?
Jon : Really interested in social media. Can I say I was really interested in the juice company itself? No. But to this day, Red Jacket Orchards is the best fresh juice that you can get. If you’re in New York City they have it in all of the Green Markets there. I don’t know about Boston. It’s great stuff. It’s like Bolthouse juice basically, if you’ve had that before.
Stephen : So where did the idea come from? Did you ever think of working for yourself before? Where did that idea or urge come from?
Jon : No. I just had a connection there with one of the vendors and I was like, “I’m just going to try and create my own job there.” I ended up doing it. Then three months later, all of a sudden via LinkedIn, I got a phone call from a recruiter and then I got my next job and I had to leave that place. I kind of created that momentum, because I wrote that business plan. I told those people, “This is what I’m going to do for you.” You can send your resume all over the place, but – I don’t know what the numbers are – I think it’s about a 10% chance that you’re going to get that job, compared to knowing somebody.
Stephen : It’s so interesting. That’s what I’m increasingly advising people to do, is – not that we want to work for free, we want to be rewarded for our efforts – but show what you can do. Bring ideas to a company you want to work for instead of waiting around for a job opening, because your initiative is going to really stand out rather than just a long line of people asking for a job.
Jon : Right, exactly.
Stephen : So you got called by a recruiter.
Jon : I got called by a recruiter. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been called by a recruiter, but usually it’s for insurance – at least that’s usually my experience, they were like, “Do you want to sell insurance?”. So I kept getting these calls and I was driving on the road selling juice in Binghamton and I got the call. I kind of answered snarky at the time [crosstalk], and it turns out that it was this great opportunity at this college. So I was like, “Yeah, I’m definitely interested.” To make a long story short, I interviewed on a Thursday and Friday morning at 9:00 am they tell me I got the job. All of a sudden I’m in a shirt and tie in the office I’ve always dreamed of –
Stephen : What were you doing at the college?
Jon : I was supposed to be doing a lot of social media. What it turned into was more sales admissions, but it was still a great learning experience, learning opportunity and I ended up getting my MBA through them. Never in a million years did I think I would go back to school at the time.
Stephen : Hey, and it was paid for.
Jon : That’s a good thing.
Stephen : That’s the best way to get an MBA.
Jon : Right. So as I was doing all of that I kind of started realizing that maybe I was a little stuck again. So I was like, “What do I really like to do?” and that’s when I went to a “Startup Weekend” in Rochester. For those who aren’t familiar with the “Startup Weekend”, it’s a 54 hour event which brings like-minded people of all different skills sets – whether you are business folk, a designer or developer who develops web apps or whatever –
Stephen : It is an awesome event. Chris and I did the one in Cape Cod last year.
Jon : Oh, it’s great. To me it’s the best learning experience. It’s just a great way to get around people who have the same interests as you.
Stephen : Yeah, and at a lot of conferences you’re just sitting there listening to panels or lectures. This is very proactive. You really get to be involved and it’s awesome.
Jon : Yeah, so I did that and I left that weekend and I was like, “Wow! That was just amazing.” and I’m like, “That really needs to come to Buffalo.”
Stephen : So they had not had one in Buffalo.
Jon : No. It just hadn’t happened, because, it hadn’t happened. So I reached out to a couple of people I had met at the event, and I’m like, “How do I bring this to Buffalo?” and I get connected to my buddy Dan and he was like “Yeah man. We totally want to bring this, but we don’t have the bandwidth. We need someone to lead the way.” I naively was like, “Oh, sure. I’ll do that.”, not knowing what I was signing myself up for at the time.
Stephen : I think it is so awesome. I mean, you brought a Startup Weekend to a city. That’s awesome.
Jon : I did. I signed up it, but there was an army of awesome people I met along the way that helped bring that to fruition. Really, without them it wouldn’t have happened. But yeah, I was kind of the thing that pushed it over the hill. I was like, “We’re just going to do this. I’m going to sign us up and then we’ll figure out how it happens after.”
Stephen : How long did it take to put together?
Jon : I want to say we took about four to six months for the first one, and then we’ve launched two others after that, so three total in almost less than a year – which is a little aggressive – and I’m a little burnt out.
Stephen : And how many people participated?
Jon : I’d say over all three events we’ve had about 350 people participate –
Stephen : That’s awesome. Congratulations.
Jon : Which, in Buffalo, it’s really exciting because we’re trying to change that blue-collar mindset where you have to graduate college and go work at a bank or just go get that job. Maybe you can create your own job, right here in this community. We want that encouragement and support and make people realize that it’s okay if you try to start a business and fail. It’s going to be rewarded, and then you can try and start the next one, and you’re going to learn a lot from doing that. So, we’re trying to create that environment here.
Stephen : That sounds like a very unstuckable philosophy.
Jon : Absolutely.
Stephen : And you’re trying to do it to a whole city.
Jon : A whole city, man. It’s grassroots. My one buddy, whose really involved in this too, posted an article about Detroit. Maybe he can get connected somewhere in there. The guy was saying that the real entrepreneurs are the people that are trying to build an entrepreneurial community in their communities – like Detroit, like Pittsburgh, like Buffalo – these cities that are rust belt. They’ve been destroyed by businesses leaving and they’re trying to build that community back up. I like that because I’m in Buffalo. Nothing against being in Boston and New York and San Fran, right? Those are already built.
Stephen : Well, you never know what could happen to the economy… How do you know when you’re stuck? It seems like you have this – you just know when you’ve had enough and it is time to move on, and then you just jump into things. So how do you know?
Jon : For me it’s like every job that I go to I’m trying to learn whatever I can from that job. To me, you kind of get that feeling that you’ve taken all the skills – you know, you’re not going to be a master or expert of anything – but you get a feeling that like, “Okay, I think I’ve kind of used everything I’m going to get out of this employer.”. And if there is no room for me to get higher up and learn some more new skills, to me, that’s when I’m stuck. That’s the scariest thing to me, when I’m not learning anymore, or developing my own skill sets. Because in the end, everybody is in the business of themselves, and if you aren’t in that mindset – that you’re in the business of you – you’ve got to get in it, because nobody cares about your brand more than yourself. That’s the way I look at it.
Stephen : It is. It’s so funny. I always say the most important skill in business is communication – and I would say, sales. Yet, what don’t they teach you in business school? How to sell! So none of us know how to sell ourselves.
Jon : It’s an awkward thing, too, usually. People aren’t comfortable bragging about themselves – some people are – but not everybody is comfortable selling themselves and bragging about what they’ve done. It’s just an awkward thing sometimes for people.
Stephen : Yeah, what is your quick story? I think that’s a big thing that we’re trying to make people aware of, is how to tell your story. What’s the quick story that you tell about yourself. What’s your quick pitch about why Jon Spitz is so awesome.
Jon : Oh man. You’re putting me on the spot? I guess I’m a doer, right? I’ve done a lot of things, from being the guy who brought Startup Weekend here, and now I’m going to be one of the guys, and gals, that brings the world’s largest business plan competition to the city of Buffalo. I don’t know. You’ve put me on the spot and I didn’t have a good response.
Stephen : I think that’s a good answer because I think that’s what it’s about when you’re selling yourself, right? You have to have that answer ready to go, because how are people going to remember you. I’m sure there are already people in the community of Buffalo who know “Oh gosh, if we need to get this thing done, you know who we need to call? Jon Spitz.”
Jon : I’d like to think so. My new boss – who is awesome – says “Your reputation is the one thing that you have to hold near and dear to your heart, because when you lose that reputation it is very, very difficult to get it back. So you need to be known as someone who follows through, gets things done, that can be relied on. If you are known as that type of person I think that goes a long way. Then you can help other people through networking and volunteering – I think volunteering is probably one of the number one things I recommend to anybody to get unstuck.
Stephen : Yeah, and I think it’s amazing – you didn’t get paid for anything you did for the startup weekend, correct?
Job : No.
Stephen : That is a ton of work, but tell me – what do you feel? What did it give you back? Why was it worth it?
Jon : Let’s say I didn’t get this job I have now – which I attribute to Startup Weekend – still, just like the relationships I have now in the community with like-minded folks. The feeling you have when you’re at that event, and you see the energy in that room and all of the people – whether it’s 70 people or 100 people – that believe they have the next Facebook, the next big thing. Man, it’s just such a high that your high on it for that whole weekend, and then a couple of days after. That’s why we keep doing it, because it’s just an incredible feeling to see these people and this energy. You’re bringing strangers together to try and accomplish something huge. That’s why I did it and that’s while I’ll probably continue to do it.
Stephen : I want to ask you in a second about your new job – about the new chapter in your career – but something else about the Startup Weekend, or your experience in building communities. What do you think are the ingredients to build a community that cares?… That’s hard.
Jon : It is. It’s a slow burn, but it really starts with a couple of passionate individuals really spreading that energy. That energy is contagious, and once people see that they’re not alone and there are other people who feel the same way and have the same ideas and think the same way they do, then it starts spreading. It’s slow, but to get people involved what really probably should happen – what I keep telling the folks that we do Startup Weekend with – is that we should really probably pass that event off to somebody else – as much as I love it – and let them run with it, bring their communities into it and let it even more. Then we go on to do a different event. So we keep getting all of these different events which are running simultaneously so there’s just a ton of entrepreneurial events happening in Buffalo, and we turn into this hub of – nobody would even think right now to start a business in Buffalo – but I’d like to think that in ten years that’s going to be a very, very different story.
Stephen : Well, just the standard or cost of living is so much less expensive than Silicon Valley or New York City, that I think that is a story that Buffalo needs to tell. That is, the dramatic cut in startup costs just because it’s going to be so much cheaper to live and have office space, etc.
Jon : Yeah, I own a house – which is just stupid to me that I can own a house. You can do that in Buffalo. Your friends in New York and etc. – they can’t do that. That’s one of the big advantages here.
Stephen : Absolutely. So you were at the college. When did you know to leave that and what did you leap into next?
Jon : I left Medaille College. I think both parties knew it was time. It was just, a lot of things went on there. Half of my staff had gotten fired, and they had been there for 30+ years. So it was just a really negative atmosphere, and I knew that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself because I started to feel like I was back at Wegman’s. Nothing against Wegman’s – because they’re a great company – but I just didn’t want to feel this way. Life is too short to feel this way. So it was really a mutual part. I told them, “Listen, I’m just going to finish up my MBA and I’m out of here.” Then I was finishing up my MBA and this job opportunity popped up – through one of the connections through Startup Weekend, giving me the introduction to the hiring manager – and then , long story short I ended up scoring really, right now, the dream job. I’m basically getting paid to do Startup Weekend, which is like “Wow!”.
Stephen : Awesome. So what’s the company? What do they do?
Jon : So, it’s “43 North” It is the world’s largest business plan competition, and by that meaning we have the most money. So it’s almost like a mass challenge, except there’s more money in the line. So we have $5 million total in prizes, and there’s going to be a million for first, there’s going to be six half million prizes, and I think four quarter million prizes.
Stephen : Wow, and what are you doing for them?
Jon : I’m the operations manager, so I’m really trying to build the competition – like I built Startup Weekend. So, what are the requirements to join the competition, getting judges, getting mentors. Then I’ll be traveling. So I’ll be heading up to Washington, New York, Boston – trying to recruit people.
Stephen : Well, you have to stop by and visit Chris and I.
Jon : Yeah, I’d love to. I’ll be in Boston, I hope. So , it’s like unbelievable. It’s a really small team, but I’m interfacing with some of — like, some of the people I’m sitting next to in meetings I’m like, “God, I can’t believe I’m sitting next to this person.” You know? Because they’re really successful people in Buffalo, and just sometimes I pinch myself, because I’ve never liked a job where I woke up and didn’t mind going to work in seven degree weather, like today. Or brought work home, and was just doing it because I wanted to do it and not because I had to. It’s like a strange feeling, and I think that’s what everybody is looking for. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you starting your own business, but finding that company where you have the same belief system, and you like the mission that they’re going for and things like that. I really wish it upon everybody, because it’s really an awesome feeling.
Stephen : I’m really glad you said that, because that’s something that we’re trying to do – that idea of entrepreneurship. That you don’t have to be that person that’s going to go get VC money and start your own business. You can find that right opportunity. It’s about being empowered. It’s about really knowing your story, knowing what you want and the people you want to work with, and going out there and finding it. It sounds like you’ve gone through a lot of trial and error to find it, but it seems like it was so worth it.
Jon : Oh my god, yeah. I probably wouldn’t have it any other way, but if you would have asked me when I was at a couple of those jobs, I probably would have sang a different tune. But now that I’m where I’m at today, you kind of see why it all took place, and all of the things you learned throughout those jobs.
Stephen : Well this is really awesome. I love your unstuckable story, but now it’s time to turn the tables. Are you ready to help our listeners get unstuck and take action?
Jon : Of course.
Stephen : So, how would you describe someone who is unstuckable?
Jon : I guess if you’re in a place where you just know that you’re not happy. If you’re not happy going to work – which I don’t think most people are for the most part – you’ve got to do something. For me, I took a drastic move and quit my job. I really don’t recommend that to anybody unless you’re in a position to do that. Other than that, my first thing would probably be networking. I think networking is the #1 thing to do to get unstuck, wherever you are. By that, try to find a cause that you really believe in. There’s tons of non-profits in any community. Maybe create your own, but just get involved and help people. When you truly try to help somebody, it seems that it comes back to you. By that I mean that if I help connect you to somebody else I know that’s somewhere else in the country, you’re going to be more prone to help me do something. It’s just human nature. If somebody helps you you want to return the favor. So to genuinely help people by volunteering, I think good things just come your way. Not only karma, but at the end of the day, I think job opportunities, etc.
Jon : Yeah, I think even when you want to go to a conference or an event that you’re really excited about – the people who are going to be there, the speakers, the content. Take the next step and actually volunteer and see if they need any help, because you are going to meet that many more people because you’re going to have an integrated role into how that conference is run. You know that better than anybody.
Jon : Yeah, that’s actually great idea.
Stephen : Right? You were kind of like. “I’m going to sit at the registration table so I can meet everybody and they come in, absolutely. So, excellent point. I really am such a firm believer in just meeting somebody and doing something new. That’s a great way to get unstuck. Is there a particular resource, a book, podcast, quote – anything like that – that you use regularly to help people get unstuck?
Jon : There’s a couple of books. One of them is, I think it’s “The Magic of Thinking Big”. I don’t know who the author is. I gave the book to my sister because I loved it so much, and I wanted to make sure that she read it. Really good book. Just really on the magic of thinking big. So thinking positive and all of that stuff. I highly recommend that book. I also really like Gary Vanderchuck.
Stephen : Oh, yes.
Jon : I’m a social media geek –
Stephen : I love “Crush It”.
Jon : Yeah, “Crush It” was actually the book which made me quit my job.
Stephen : Wow!, Thank you Gary V. Look what you did for Jon.
Jon : Those would be the two which come to mind immediately.
Stephen : Is there anybody you would like to thank, that has helped you get unstuck, and how did they help you?
Jon : I always think that getting that job at Medaille. Jackie Matheny was the hiring boss. For her to give me that opportunity – because I was hired as the director of online recruitment, which at the time after I got there I realized that I probably had no business getting that job. She really took a leap of faith on me, and it probably changed the whole course of my career trajectory. So that would be one of the first ones. I actually wrote her a letter after they fired her that said how much I owed to her. Then [Ad Harrigon?] –
Stephen : I think that’s awesome by the way. I just think it is a reminder. For those people that – you don’t even realize – it could have been just something they said. But it affected your life. I think, write a note, send an email if you’re able to contact them somehow, and just let them know how they changed the course of your life. I think it’s such a nice gesture back to what you were saying about helping people out, volunteering, and giving something back.
Jon : Oh, absolutely. Then Ed Harrigan, he was my manager over at Wegman’s. It was not until I got into my MBA program, and they started doing the leadership courses, that I really realized like, “Wow. Ed was telling me all of this stuff for free at work.” So I was learning leadership way back from him. I guess to my last point on really how to get unstuck – and my boss kind of reiterated it – and I’m going to try and pursue this myself now. You need a mentor, and you probably need more than one. Just reach out to somebody. He suggested you reach out to somebody in the community that you admire and it doesn’t matter how big they are. He goes, “The worst thing they do is don’t respond or say no. But everybody likes to get their ego stroked, so write them an email and say, “Hey, you have a phenomenal career background. I would love to grab a coffee with you and chat.”. Then just take it from there. So I actually reached out to this gentleman I’ve met through my new job, who has just an incredible resume, and said, “Hey, I had a great time meeting you the first time. If you’re available, I’d love to bounce ideas off of you from now and then, over a cup of coffee. He’s like, “Sure, no problem. I would love to help out.” I think you don’t know until you ask, but we’re all afraid to ask. So I think, just getting somebody you admire that you don’t work with but is in a different industry, I think that is probably a huge thing that most people are afraid to do,
Stephen : I think that’s great advice. What I always tell people is everybody likes a compliment. Something they wrote or did that you genuinely really liked, and influenced you – let them know. That is a connection, instead of just saying, “I want to make a lot of money just like you!” And maybe that is an approach, who knows. You never know who you’re talking to. Even for our podcast, it’s amazing how many people who have been so generous with their time who we thought would never want to give us the time of day. It’s been a tremendous experience.
Jon : Awesoe.
Stephen : So John, thank you so much for all of your awesome advice. There’s a lot of great nuggets in there for people to go back and listen to on how they can get unstuck. Hopefully, we’ll have you back one day. And good luck with the new business plan competition.
Jon : Yeah, and people should check it out at 43north.org. You can apply, register, and maybe you can get unstuck by starting your own business and bringing it right here to Buffalo, New York.
Stephen : Love it! Thanks so much Jon.
Jon : Alright, thanks.
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